Commodifying Humans: The Case of the Roma


Reading the conference paper of Anthony McCann (2004) Enclosure Within and Without the Commons, I started wondering to what extent enclosures really play a part in our lives. McCann believes that we isolate variables, separating ‘things from other things, people-as-things from other people-as things’ (p.12). By concentrating on ‘things’, according to McCann, we can isolate ourselves from the ethical concerns of the reality we experience ignoring our own attitude and role in it. McCann writes that we allow this ‘commodification’, the concentration on ‘people-as-things’, to keep us distance on what actually happens to other people around us.   

This reminded me of a seminar that was organised a couple of weeks ago at UEL ‘Sarkozy and the plight of the Roma’. The speaker of the seminar was Dr Jim Wolfreys from King College London and the event was chaired by Philip Marfleet from UEL. As it can be seen from the title, the seminar was about the Roma in France but also dealt the situation of the Roma in other parts of Europe. The situation of the Roma is one – among many others – reminder to us Europeans, that development is certainly something that cannot be isolated only to the global south, and it is one of the greatest reminders of how economic growth does not mean the same as real development and is far away from equality. In the seminar there was discussion regarding the deportations of the Roma from France as well as their (mal)treatment in some other parts of Europe, like in Italy or in England. It is clear, not only from the seminar, but more generally from the news we see that the Roma are indeed very marginalised group of people. As Philip Marfleet mentioned, especially during times of financial trouble and other instability, it is too easy to target a group that is vulnerable and has no single country of origin to defend them. We can blame them for almost anything, from misbehaviour to organised crime. Even in Finland, the Roma have been pictured as vagabonds, beggars and being part of organised crime. The discussion in Finland went so far that legislation which would forbid begging in public spaces was talked about. Our former prime minister also instructed ‘good citizens’ not to give money to the beggars (meaning, the Roma).

And why is it possible that politicians in Europe can engage in such a discussion that so obviously is discriminatory, even racist? It is because us ordinary citizen allow – and in cases like Finland, encourage – them to do that. We encourage the politicians as we are disgusted by the begging people on our streets, people, who we have decided to be criminals or just otherwise very suspicious group. We fail to see them as fellow human beings facing individual suffering. Instead we isolate the Roma to be ‘people-as-things’ so that we can distance ourselves from them. We are commodifying the people, making them things and then enclose the Roma out of our lives without the need to feel moral concern about it. Because, after all, if they were to be seen as individuals, as human beings like any one of us, how could we ever justify ourselves the treatment we are putting them through.


One Response to “Commodifying Humans: The Case of the Roma”

  1. ngoziokei Says:

    We should not commodify humans as things, because it is degrading to mankind. The roma should be taken as a human being, just like any other human being existing. This helps the feeling of social wellbeing/moral concern and emotionally attached towards one another. Also putting us in a checklist to respect one another’s believes/values in life.

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